2018 ELECTION: SADC Observers Arrive
10 March 2018
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President Emmerson Mnangagwa is living true to his pledge of free, fair and credible polling with his administration today opening unrestricted access for the first international election observer team.

A Sadc mission arrives today for a week-long pre-election assessment, and will meet officials from Government, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, political parties and civil society.
The visit, which is in line with the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Conduct of Democratic Elections, will appriise the regional body of Zimbabwe’s plan for a credible poll. Elections for the President, parliamentarians and councillors are due between July 21 and August 21, 2018.

The Sunday Mail understands that the arrival of the Sadc delegation is a precursor to other teams from the African Union and European Union, which are expected in Zimbabwe soon on similar missions.

President Mnangagwa’s administration is on an aggressive re-engagement drive with the international community and has pledged to invite international election observers, marking the end of the isolationist policies of the previous regime.

Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ambassador Joey Bimha said last week that, “Both Sadc and the AU are coming for the pre-election assessment process.

“It was decided that observing elections now entails long term observation and not just the polling process. The intention is that long-term observation guarantees stability and creates room for more thorough observation.
“Observation is now being done at three stages. The first one entails observing the pre-election period, the second stage is the campaigns and the polling, before a final team is sent to assess stability and acceptability after results have been announced.

“The Sadc Electoral Advisory Council is instrumental in this regards and will send a team. We will be having the Sadc team for the pre-election stage between March 11 and 17; they will be here to assess if the environment is conducive for holding a credible, free and fair election.
“While here, they will have discussions with Government, the ruling party, opposition parties, civic society and the elections management body so as to ascertain what the situation is like before the elections are held.

“For the AU team, we do not have a date as yet but they will be here in the coming weeks. I’m not sure about the dates for the EU team, but off hand I think they will be around the same time we will be hosting the AU delegation.”

According to the Sadc Principles, a “Goodwill Mission” should be dispatched for pre-election assessment, with the mandate to – among other things – evalate possible conflict and offer advice.
Sadc member states are required to invite a regional observer mission to observe their elections based on the provisions of the Sadc Treaty, the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Conduct of Democratic Elections.

The Sadc Executive Secretary will, in consultation with the country holding elections, constitute and send an assessment missions in the period prior to elections.

The guidelines read in part: “In order to ensure the effective application of the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, the SEAC shall undertake Goodwill Missions in line with Article 9.2 of the SEAC Structures, Rules and Procedures.”

The mission is expected to: “Reflect on possible conflict situations in respective countries on matters pertaining to electoral processes and render advise to the Ministerial Committee of the Organ on Polices, Defence and Security Co-operation on the development of mediation strategies, before, during and after elections;
“Based on the findings of the Goodwill Mission, report to the MCO on whether the political environment is conducive to the holding of free, fair, transparent, credible, and peaceful elections in conformity with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections;
“Encourage the specific SADC Member State holding elections to adhere to international best practices in all elections;

“Advise the specific Member State holding elections on strategies for enhancing and consolidating the capacity of the elections management body (EMB);
“Encourage the specific Member State holding elections to uphold and respect the independence and autonomy of the (EMB);

“Encourage the revision and improvement of electoral laws, codes of conduct and regulations in line with the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”
The AU, on its part, dispatches a pre-election observer mission upon receiving an invitation from the nation planning polls.

The mission will determine, among other things, the existence of a “level playing field”.
“In advance of the election date, the Head of the AU Election Mission should advise the AU Commission whether the necessary conditions and environment for a free and fair election as agreed in the AU principles governing democratic elections, have been satisfied,” read part of the AU guidelines on elections.

“Whatever the advice received by the Commission should be confirmed in a public statement by the Chairperson of the Commission.

“The assessment team will establish whether or not conditions for organising credible, legitimate, free and fair elections in accordance with the Durban Declaration are in place in the country.”

More than 5,3 million Zimbabweans have registered to vote under a biometric voter registration programme.

Government is also amending the Electoral Act to include provisions giving a cut-off date for candidates to withdraw their candidature after being duly nominated.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairperson Mr Andrew Makoni said pre-election monitoring teams were crucial as issues that result in a contested election result usually arose before actual voting.

He said: “If observers arrive on the eve of an election they are likely to miss out on things they ought to have looked at like whether there was an enabling environment before the elections were held. There is need to assess the environment at least four or so months before the elections.” Sunday Mail